Kim and Mark volunteer to help out with the Yulara Camel Cup and end up in a betting syndicate against AFL boss Gillon McLachlan . . .
This article is all about Camels and community. A couple of years ago I read Robyn Davison’s book, Tracks. If you’ve never read it, have a crack, it’s a beautiful account of a young woman’s adventure from Alice Springs to the West coast of Australia with a team of camels. Set in the early 70’s, and without any prior experience with camels or the outback, Robyn makes you fall in love with the desert, with being alone and pushing yourself, and curious about these beasts that now roam wild in our country. I decided to re-read her book during our week in Yulara because not only is it an enjoyable read, but I love to be immersed in location through books while on holiday as it often gives a different perspective to the same old tourist view point.
Step back 3 months to Tasmania, and you’ll find us making friends with a couple of other travelling families, and as luck would have it a couple of them would be in Yulara at the same time. One of us came across a Facebook advert looking for volunteers for the Yulara Camel Cup, coinciding with the time we were all there. Volunteer duties were to be thanked with free entry to the National Park, discount camping at Yulara, and a slap up BBQ of Camel Sausages and free drinks on the Thursday prior to the big event. We were in! Having a ride on the camels with a view of the Rock in the background was on our agenda in any case and the kids were looking forward to seeing what a camel ride was all about. Interestingly, on our drive out to Kata Tjuta during the week, we drove past a man leading a team of 4 camels along the side of the road, a woman riding the leading camel, both with almost Afghan like garb protecting them from the sun and the wind. They had just come out from the side road signposting the Docker River, on the Western border of the NT. On returning to our campsite in Yulara that evening we were excited to discover they were also set up in the back blocks of the campground, their camel team hobbled but enjoying a feed of the trees and scrub surrounding us. How romantic! Well, some might say hard work, horrible, dry and dusty. Romantic best describes it for those not actually doing it. Still, camels were on everyone’s mind and the kids watched mouths agape as the beasts foraged. They were the talk of the campsite. Give that bloke a cold beer, seriously.
The volunteer dinner rolled around and we all met at the Camel farm, hanging out with other volunteers and meeting more travelling families. Kids running wild in the dust and grown-ups having a drink and a camel sausage or two, and everyone’s happy. Get a few drinks into everyone and what do you know, we have all decided to throw a few dollars each in to buying camel as syndicate in the Friday night race auctions. One of the Camel Jockeys suggested we need a bit more cash to ensure we got a good runner, so we spent the better part of the day hustling more cash from fellow travellers in camp, getting everyone to pledge equal units of money to be divided up proportionately when our camel eventually crossed the line in triumph. There were big bucks at stake! This process gave us all a big chance to meet and chat with plenty of other travellers we normally would not have had the chance to interact with – and so our connections grew.
A select few of the keen punters in our syndicate headed in to the Friday night auction to buy us a camel. With the assistance of a non-racing jockey to give them the heads up on the hot tips to bid for, we were in with chance, at least with a good outside wild card! Sure, we didn’t have the big bucks that, the AFL big boss, Gillon McLachlan was flashing around… but hey, we had a crack and walked away with Ted, a cranky wild beast only freshly broken in, showing big promise on the straights. A few beers, a few laughs, a cooperative of previously unknowns buying a camel together… who would have thunk it!
Saturday morning was race day. I had a 2-hour shift on the gates, meeting and greeting the incoming crowd, ensuring ticket lines were organised and handing out programs for the day. I got to say hi to many of our fellow travellers we had roped in to our little plan, and even those that hadn’t laughed it off. I felt like I knew everyone! Once my shift was over, I had the day free to watch the races and other events on the program. Mark had a 2 hour shift behind the bar, serving up sausages to fellow punters with a couple of other caravanning Dads. The kids? Running wild as per usual with all the others, ducking and weaving between the legs of grown ups who were either dressed up to the nines like it was Melbourne Cup, or dressed down like a desert stockman in boots and jeans.
So how did the camel races go? What an odd event. Nothing like the Gee Gee’s! It would have all gone over our head if we didn’t have a Camel of our own to focus on, and fellow syndicate partners to chat with, mulling over the field as the heats progressed during the day. The camels were walked from the finish line to the start, the jockeys ready on their backs, but were released to run the moment they were all roughly facing the same way. What a laugh. It was hilarious to stand alongside all our new friends cheering ‘Go you good thing!’ for a pack of stinky camels loping down the straight like a bunch of gangly teenage boys, their jockeys holding on for dear life. It made it so much more relevant to actually have a reason to pay attention, a common goal with a crowd of mates, edging our camel on. There were other enjoyable events throughout the day including a Whip Cracking demonstration by Nathan ‘Whippy’ Griggs, the resident entertainer from Mataranka, a ‘best dressed’ competition (Congratulations to our camping neighbour who won the show due to her stunning ensemble featuring a camel poo necklace and locally collected seed pod earrings), helicopter rides, and wait for it – a Camel Poo throwing competition. First place was award to yours truly, my camel poo-throwing arm was in TOP form that day. $50 cash prize, thanks for coming.
But what about our big syndicate opportunity? Well, the old bull is probably still running. Sure, we are $100 or so out of pocket, and of course the AFL boss walked away with the big bucks, but I bet he didn’t have as much fun as we did, or make as many new friends. It was an absolute laugh, leaving us all with a whole bunch of new stories under our belt. Camels connected us as community. Goes to show getting involved with the locals and those travelling alongside you truly enriches the experience, as opposed to just passing by, being a tourist on the surface of things. We will certainly be looking for more experiences of this nature as we continue, camels or otherwise.
A Fanatical Sabbatical
‘Mark, Kim and the kids are leaving behind their home in the Adelaide Hills to jaunt around the country side while they manage their arborist business remotely. Normally enrolled in ‘bush school’, they thought they could push the kids outdoor eduction experience a little further by living outside for a year.
And follow them on Facebook @AFanaticalSabbatical